What could the surge of centre ground parties mean for a possible 2020 Assembly election?

The results of the 2019 general election have confirmed that the electoral map of Northern Ireland has been redrawn. The Alliance Party broke out of its traditional electoral stronghold in and around Belfast to make strong gains across Northern Ireland, polling 16.8% to come third in the popular vote behind the DUP (30.6%) and Sinn Féin (22.8%).

With possible fresh Assembly elections coming in 2020, the rise of centre ground in Northern Ireland politics is likely to lead to potentially surprising results in the event of a new Stormont poll. The graphic at the top shows estimated quotas (note that these aren’t win probabilities) for each party in each constituency. If a seat is shaded grey it denotes the party is not the incumbent.

Previously, I had written about how the elections earlier this year might not necessarily lead to Assembly election success, due to the fact that gains were clustered in and around Belfast and it wasn’t clear that their support was building across Northern Ireland. However, the party’s success at the general election in constituencies such as North Antrim (up from 5.6% in 2017 to 14.1%) and West Tyrone (up from 3.2% to 9.7%) confirms that they are now in contention to win Assembly seats across the board.

Taking each constituency in turn:

East Belfast

2017 Assembly election: Alliance (2), DUP (2), UUP (1)
Safe: Alliance (2), DUP (2)
Competitive: The final seat will be taken by either the UUP or the Green Party, with the UUP likely slight favourites.

North Belfast

2017 Assembly election: DUP (2), Sinn Féin (2), SDLP (1)
Safe: DUP (1), Sinn Féin (1), Alliance (1 – gain), SDLP (1)
Competitive: The last seat will either be a second seat for Sinn Féin or the DUP, with the DUP likely favourites.

South Belfast

2017 Assembly election: Alliance (1), DUP (1), Green (1), SDLP (1), Sinn Féin (1)
Safe: Alliance (1), DUP (1), SDLP (1)
Competitive: The Green Party and Sinn Féin are very likely to take the final two seats, meaning no change from 2017.

West Belfast

2017 Assembly election: People Before Profit (1), Sinn Féin (4)
Safe: People Before Profit (1), Sinn Féin (3)
Competitive: The results of the 2019 elections suggest that the DUP are the narrow favourites to take the final seat in West Belfast. The other contenders are a fourth seat for Sinn Féin, and the SDLP.

East Antrim

2017 Assembly election: Alliance (1), DUP (2), UUP (2)
Safe: Alliance (1), DUP (2), UUP (1)
Competitive: Alliance would appear to have the best chance of taking the last seat over either the UUP or Sinn Féin.

East Londonderry

2017 Assembly election: DUP (2), Independent (1), SDLP (1), Sinn Féin (1)
Safe: DUP (2), SDLP (1), Sinn Féin (1)
Competitive: The final seat looks like being a close contest between independent unionist Claire Sugden and Alliance.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone

2017 Assembly election: DUP (1), Sinn Féin (3), UUP (1)
Safe: DUP (1), Sinn Féin (2), UUP (1)
Competitive: Sinn Féin appear almost certain to lose their third seat in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, with the SDLP being the most likely beneficiaries; the DUP and Alliance are the other contenders for the final seat.

Foyle

2017 Assembly election: DUP (1), SDLP (2), Sinn Féin (2)
Safe: SDLP (2), Sinn Féin (1)
Competitive: The winner of the last two seats look like being a scramble between (in decreasing terms of likelihood) the DUP, People Before Profit, Alliance, and Sinn Féin.

Lagan Valley

2017 Assembly election: Alliance (1), DUP (2), SDLP (1), UUP (1)
Safe: Alliance (1), DUP (2), UUP (1)
Competitive: Alliance would appear to be the strong favourites to take a second in Lagan Valley, at the SDLP’s expense.

Mid Ulster

2017 Assembly election: DUP (1), SDLP (1), Sinn Féin (3)
Safe: DUP (1), SDLP (1), Sinn Féin (2)
Competitive: The last seat in Mid Ulster appears highly competitive between Sinn Féin and the UUP, with Alliance an outside prospect.

Newry and Armagh

2017 Assembly election: DUP (1), SDLP (1), Sinn Féin (3)
Safe: DUP (1), SDLP (1), Sinn Féin (2)
Competitive: The fifth seat in Newry and Armagh looks like being a close contest between Sinn Féin, Alliance, and the UUP.

North Antrim

2017 Assembly election: DUP (2), Sinn Féin (1), TUV (1), UUP (1)
Safe: DUP (1), TUV (1), UUP (1)
Competitive: The DUP very likely to take 2 seats in North Antrim, and Alliance look narrow favourites to gain the fifth seat at Sinn Féin’s expense.

North Down

2017 Assembly election: Alliance (1), Green (1), DUP (2), UUP (1)
Safe: Alliance (1), Green (1), DUP (2)
Competitive: The last seat looks like being a contest between the UUP and Alliance, where the UUP are favourites.

South Antrim

2017 Assembly election: Alliance (1), DUP (2), Sinn Féin (1), UUP (1)
Safe: Alliance (1) DUP (2), UUP (1)
Competitive: The outcome of the final seat in South Antrim looks like being a close three-way contest between Alliance, the SDLP, and Sinn Féin.

South Down

2017 Assembly election: DUP (1), SDLP (2), Sinn Féin (2)
Safe: DUP (1), SDLP (1), Sinn Féin (1)
Competitive: The other two seats in South Down look set to be a close contest between Alliance, the SDLP and Sinn Féin.

Strangford

2017 Assembly election: Alliance (1), DUP (3), UUP (1)
Safe: Alliance (1), DUP (2), UUP (1)
Competitive: The DUP look highly likely to lose their third seat in Strangford, with the Alliance Party or the SDLP the beneficiary.

Upper Bann

2017 Assembly election: DUP (2), Sinn Féin (1), SDLP (1), UUP (1)
Safe: DUP (1), Sinn Féin (1), UUP (1)
Competitive: The final two seats in Upper Bann look like being a contest between (in descending likelihood) Alliance, the DUP, and the SDLP.

West Tyrone

2017 Assembly election: DUP (1), Sinn Féin (3), SDLP (1)
Safe: DUP (1), Sinn Féin (2), SDLP (1)
Competitive: Alliance look narrow favourites to take the fifth seat in West Tyrone, with Sinn Féin and the UUP being the other contenders.

The expansion of the Alliance vote means that there are now a substantial number of contests where the outcome appears very uncertain. But, if I absolutely had to stick my neck out regarding the results of an Assembly election held in early 2020, I would go for the following.

DUP 27 (down 1)
Sinn Féin 22 (down 5)
Alliance 16 (up 8)
SDLP 11 (down 1)
UUP 9 (down 1)
People Before Profit 2 (up 1)
Green 2 (unchanged)
TUV 1 (unchanged)

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